Schools can be cagey in the extreme when it comes to revealing anything which might make them vulnerable to a complaint, including information about your child. So what are your rights in terms of accessing your child’s educational records?
In a state maintained school, this is straightforward: regulations give you the right to see your child’s records, and in Scotland, this right extends to independent schools. But this is not the case for independent schools, free schools and academies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In fact, you may well have signed a contract giving the school control of information when your child started at the school. But it is possible to see educational records by a different route: the right of subject access under the Data Protection Act (DPA).
Rights under the DPA entitle you to see information held by another about yourself. It is the pupil’s right to make a Subject Access Request (SAR) to see their records, but a parent, or someone with parental responsibility, can make an SAR on their child’s behalf if the child has given their consent, or is unable to act on their own behalf. (In broad terms, a child of 12 or more is likely to be considered mature enough to make their own SAR.)
There are two types of request that can be made, with different rules for time limits and fees:
- a request to see (or have copies of) your child’s educational record
- a request to see (or have copies of) all personal data relating to your child.
A request for sight or copies of educational records must be responded to within 15 school days. Educational records include any records, notes, emails and correspondence containing your child’s name. The school does not have to include information kept by a teacher solely for their own use, information provided about a pupil by the parents of another pupil, or information that might cause serious mental or physical harm to a pupil. Schools must provide sight of records for free, or can charge for copies at a maximum rate detailed in the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) guidance (from £1 for 1-19 pages up to £50 for 500 + pages).
A request for all personal data outside the educational record (which could include information in un-filed correspondence and informal notes made by teachers) requires a response within 40 calendar days, and there is a maximum charge of £10 for this information.
To make a request, you should write to the school’s board of governors. State you wish to make an SAR on behalf of your child under the DPA and would like to see (or have copies of) any information held by or on behalf of a school about your child. Refer to the deadline that applies when dealing with requests for copies of records.
You can make an SAR for information about exams, requesting an examiner’s comments on a candidate’s performance (whether on script or marking sheet) and details of marks. You are not entitled to see a pupil’s exam script. Special rules apply to these requests, to stop people using a SAR to get results early. If an SAR is made before results are announced, the response must be the earlier of five months from the date of the request, or 40 days from the date on which results are announced.
What if a school doesn’t respond to your request within the time frame, or refuses to grant access to the records? Write back to the school and remind them of your request and their obligations under the DPA, stating that in the absence of a prompt response you will report the matter to the ICO ( 0303 123 1113). If a school is failing to comply with the DPA, the ICO may issue an enforcement notice. It may take a while if it is necessary to involve the ICO, but a school can eventually be forced to reveal all the information they hold on your child.